Hapoel battling the odds

Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC are chasing another UEFA Cup upset against Leeds United AFC.

By Simon Hart

Given the proposed involvement of Phil Collins in writing an anthem for the UEFA European Championship, it would be fitting perhaps if Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC were to adopt one of the English singer's hits, 'Against All Odds', for their UEFA Cup campaign.

Home and away
That is the message coming from the Hapoel camp ahead of the second leg of their second-round tie against Leeds United AFC. Again, due to the security situation in Israel, Hapoel will play their home tie at an away venue. Albeit their home from home this time is not Sofia's Georgi Asparuhov stadium - venue of their qualifying and first-round games - but the Artemio Franchi stadium in Florence.

Missing fans
Hapoel played four games at their Bloomfield stadium en route to the last eight of this competition last year - when they claimed an English scalp in Chelsea FC - but had to switch to a neutral venue in Nicosia for the quarter-final against AC Milan. Unlike last year, however, when they took 10,000 supporters to the San Siro, no more than 500 are expected in Florence.

At a disadvantage
Midfield player Yossi Abuksis said: "I'm missing the thousands of dedicated fans who followed us across Europe last season. But the thing I miss most is playing our home matches in front of all our fans at Bloomfield stadium." The situation also "hurts our finances", according to Hapoel owner Moshe Theumim. He explained: "Instead of making money from a tie, we are losing quite a lot. We don't get the same attendances we could have got and the security bills are a lot higher."

'In with a chance'
Still, Hapoel are in good heart. They warmed up for this match with a 2-0 win at Hapoel Beer-Sheva, which left them third in the Ligat ha-Al. Despite their 1-0 first-leg defeat, Abuksis underlined the confidence in the camp when he said: "We are still in with a good chance and even though you can't describe Florence as our home we can do something in the return leg."

'Patience is key'
While Leeds manager Terry Venables hopes Hapoel "may approach the game differently this time, [which] could give us more opportunities", Hapoel captain Shimon Gershon believes "the key word is patience". Leeds won the first leg only through a late Harry Kewell goal but Gershon warned: "The last thing we can afford to do is send everyone forward and expose our defence because if Leeds get an away goal Hapoel will be out."

Injury problems
Gershon can expect another busy night watching England striker Alan Smith, back in the Leeds side after missing two matches through injury and suspension. That was some rare good news for Venables, who is missing eleven first-team players, including Mark Viduka and Danny Mills, both out due to personal reasons.

Confidence fragile
The only two fit central defenders in the 18-man Leeds party are Lucas Radebe and Michael Duberry, with Swedish defender Teddy Lucic cup-tied and Jonathan Woodgate injured. Leeds's confidence has been as fragile as their players' physiques. UEFA Cup semi-finalists in 2000, they have struggled for form in recent weeks, although they did collect a first league win since September last weekend, 4-3 at West Ham United FC. So Hapoel are not the only ones fighting the odds.